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Digital Archive International History Declassified

1944

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE EVENTS IN XINJIANG

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    An anonymous report on Soviet-Guomindang relations in Xinjiang, and political developments in Xinjiang since 1933.
    "The Truth about the Events in Xinjiang," 1944, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGASPI f.17, op.128, d. 824, l. 404-410. Obtained by Jamil Hasanli and translated by Gary Goldberg. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121823
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The Truth about the Events in Xinjiang

The Soviet Union has shown that it will cooperate with Chongqing only in the event that Chongqing displays its genuine desire toward such a cooperation and that it, the Soviet Union, absolutely does not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of China. Possibly, the best examples of such a position of the Soviet Union are the noteworthy and highly dramatic events in the province of Xinjiang in 1942 and 1943. For centuries the economic life of Xinjiang, cut off from the rest of China by thousands of miles of semi-desert, has depended on trade with Russia. Active Soviet influence in Xinjiang, however, only began at the start of the '30s, when Soviet troops helped Governor Sheng Shicai put down a number of internal insurrections incited by Muslim General Ma Zhongying. Many observers assess this military aid as evidence that the Soviet Union is persistently trying to annex Xinjiang, but their opinion is refuted by the fact that these disorders occurred in Xinjiang soon after Japan invaded Manchuria, and that the thrust of the Japanese campaign was to expand Japan's control over North China, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, bringing it to the Soviet border in Russian Turkestan. Firmly resolved to prevent Japanese penetration into Xinjiang, right after initial support to Sheng Shicai, the Soviet Union continued to give him economic and technical aid to joint Chinese-Soviet enterprises which had been created. Trade agreements were concluded between the Soviet trade organization, Sovsin'torg, and the provincial government, including…loans, and a number of specialists were sent to Xinjiang from the Soviet Union to work as technical advisers in the fields of education, health, agriculture, transportation, and industry. During a 10-year period, from 1933 to 1943, Xinjiang was one of the most advanced provinces in China in economic development, the system of public education, and the democratic nature of its government. Governor Sheng Shicai, reserved for himself full control over all political [propaganda] of the province as the chief of the Anti-Imperialist Society, and the Chinese Communist Party was not allowed to exist as a mass political organization or to pursue its propaganda work in Xinjiang. However, many prominent figures in Xinjiang were Communists, including the brother of Sheng Shicai, Sheng Shiji, Commanding General of the Xinjiang forces. The Governor worked in close cooperation with them, as well as with all popular organizations which had  developed in the province. It is a fact that Sheng Shicai addressed a request to be accepted as a member of the Communist Party, but it is quite strange that he did not turn to the Chinese Communists for this but to the Comintern. When they informed him that he had to address his request to the Communist Party of China, he took no further action in this direction. During all this period the Chinese government observed the development of Xinjiang with the greatest suspicion and put strong pressure on Sheng Shicai to force him to turn against the Soviet Union. For a considerable period of time Sheng Shicai, having established the fact that for centuries the economic welfare of Xinjiang had depended on friendly relations with Russia, ignored these [notions]. But in the spring of 1942, when the Nazi armies were moving across the Soviet Union toward Stalingrad, and many military observers predicted the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union, Sheng Shicai decided that it would be desirable to strengthen his relations with Chongqing in view of the possibility of the defeat of Russia, and therefore he unexpectedly ordered General Sheng Shiji to remove the Russian advisers and other Soviet citizens from Xinjiang. His brother refused to obey this order, and his refusal was supported by the entire cabinet. It is known for a fact that after this the father-in-law of Sheng Shicai and his closest adviser demanded that Sheng Shicai kill his own brother. But inasmuch at a family council Sheng Shicai was not able to bring himself to carry out this murder his father-in-law went out in the courtyard with General Shichi and shot him there. This served as a signal for a clearly anti-Soviet campaign, which ascribed this murder "to Soviet citizens who were the conspirators". Madame Sheng Shiji was executed soon after this, charged with the murder of her husband. For foreigners the Chongqing propagandists spread information that Madame Sheng Shiji was Russian, and that she was the center of an organization of Soviet conspirators. In reality, however, she was not a Russian, but a Chinese, and in addition she took no part in the internal affairs of Xinjiang; she was simply a scapegoat.

Then there followed a series of notable trips between Chongqing and Urumqi [Dihua], the capital of Xinjiang, inasmuch as the Chinese government quickly assessed the favorable situation for the establishment of its control over Xinjiang. In May 1942 General Zhu Shaoliang, the Commanding General of the 8th Military Division Zone [SIC], which includes Xinjiang, visited Urumqi to find out the situation. He returned on 4 July accompanied by a delegation including General Mao Wenshu, General He Chingwu [sic], and Doctor Wang Wenhao, Minister of the Economy. This group, although its actions were not made public, as they report, had a dual goal, to establish GMD [KMT] authority in Xinjiang, and to completely tear Sheng Shicai away from the Soviet Union. At the end of August 1942 another delegation from Chongqing visited Urumqi, which announced Xinjiang's entry into the GMD zone with great ceremony. This second delegation included Madam Jiang Jieshi [Chiang Kai-shek], General Zhu Shaoliang, General Mao Wenshu, Lun Hencao [sic], Vice Minister of the Politburo of the Military Committee, and Zhu Xingwu [sic], the official representative for foreign affairs in Urumqi. The justification for such a sudden anti-Soviet orientation of Xinjiang remains a problem, however, if one does not assume that a Nazi victory [would] encourage the Chinese government to eliminate Soviet influence. It is notable that on 28 August 1942, the day before the arrival of Madame Jiang Jieshi, an order was issued for mass arrests of Communists and "leftists", and that after her departure the materials from the "trial" of Madame Sheng Shiji [Chen Xiuying] were sent to Chongqing, where the discovery of a "Communist plot" was announced, the goal of which was to hand over Xinjiang to the Soviet Union. One can point here what happened, as at least five months passed before the report of the "dangerous plot" allegedly discovered at the trial of Madame Sheng Shiji reached the Chinese government, a fact which shows that the idea of a "Communist plot" in connection with the murder of Sheng Shiji did not arise until various Chongqing delegations had visited Urumqi. What sounded most ironic was the conclusion of all this, which was the official statement about the death of Sheng Shiji, published in Xinjiang ribao [Xinjiang Daily] on 15 December 1942, where it was stated that the murder was the result of a "political conspiracy of traitors" which had the goal of undermining the "united war of resistance of our country", and added that in recognition of the outstanding service of Gen. Sheng Shiji to his country he was being posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and his body was being given a fancy official funeral.

During the winter and spring of 1943 the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang did not pursue their other [druyu - SIC] anti-Soviet policy, and in April troops of the Central government under the command of General Hu Zongnan were sent to Xinjiang along with aircraft and heavy field guns, obviously in the expectation that in spite of the defeat at Stalingrad the summer Nazi offensive would give China the opportunity to safely show its strength to the Soviet Union in a provocatively manner. By the way, many of the Chinese troops which went to Xinjiang were at the same time under the impression that they were going to fight the Soviet Union.

One of the reasons for the detailed exposition of Xinjiang history is that these details illustrate the uncompromising anti-Soviet position of the Chongqing regime. But the consequences of this history, namely the actions undertaken by the Soviet Union in response to unbridled Chinese provocation, are the main thing. If, as many insist, the Soviet Union was actually interested in interfering in the affairs of other countries, this would indeed be an ideal case for a whole series of protests against the unjustified accusation of a "Communist plot against Chinese unity" and the persecutions of Soviet citizens in Xinjiang. In reality, however, the Soviet government has taken the opposition position. At the beginning of May 1943 it informed Chongqing about its intention to recall not only the small forces of Soviet troops quartered in Hami, but also all the Soviet experts [and] advisers, and to remove all Soviet industrial and economic enterprises from Xinjiang. Sovsin'torg was liquidated, all Soviet equipment was shipped back to the Soviet Union down to the smallest item, and trade with Russia, on which the economic life of Xinjiang has depended for centuries, has actually dropped to nothing. There were two reasons for the Soviet decision to leave Xinjiang: the first is the fact that there was no more danger of the Japanese penetrating there and, second, was a desire to show that the Soviet Union had no territorial ambitions in China. However, it seems obvious that the Soviet Union would not have taken such decisive steps as a worsening of all economic relations with Xinjiang if this were not done from a feeling that such an action was the only way to avert an open conflict with the Chongqing regime. In this case, although the issue was also decided peacefully, the Chongqing regime's inability to work together with its great [one word unreadable] neighbor was also demonstrated, with the loss from this to the economic welfare of the population of Xinjiang.

The determination of the Soviet Union not to interfere in Chinese affairs was again expressed by V. M. Molotov, Commissar of Foreign Affairs, in his interview with Arnold Nelson in August 1944 when this letter was in Moscow on the way to Chongqing. V. M. Molotov reminded [him] how the Soviet Union was able to save Jiang Jieshi when the latter was kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang in Xian by an announcement through TASS that this kidnapping was the work of a pro-Japanese movement with the very worst consequences for Chinese unity. He stressed this incident as evidence, [considering] that long ago in 1936 the Soviet Union was substantially interested in [the preservation] of Chinese unity under the rule of Jiang Jieshi. He added that in spite of every effort of the Soviet Union the Chinese government had not expressed any interest in the improvement of relations between both countries, which have actually worsened. Molotov also stressed the fact that the Soviet Union cannot be [viewed as] responsible for any domestic course of events in China.

At the end of the interview he declared that the Soviet Union was satisfied to see the US, having taken leadership both in military, economic, and political relations with China, and that the Soviet Union does not intend to make the first step until Jiang Jieshi and the Chongqing government exhibit changes in their policy that they desire an improvement of Chinese-Soviet relations.

At the end of 1943, when the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan seemed definite, the Chongqing government [decided] to seem friendly to the Soviet Union, as one can see in the article by Zhu Xingwu, the specially authorized representative for foreign affairs in Xinjiang, which appeared in Xinhua ribao [Xinhua Daily] on 10 October. In this article, entitled "A Survey of Future Soviet-Chinese Relations", Zhu Xingwu dwelt in detail on the amount of the joint responsibility of China and the USSR for "watching" Japan, for keeping the peace in the Far East along the common border between the two countries, and on the strong economic ties, and ended it with a call for "the development of a still closer friendship".

The press statements in Chongqing are those which are friendly toward the Soviet Union. On 19 September, published in China Times in [Chinese] and on 22 September, the National Herald printed in English, placed editorials stressing the need for closer Chinese-Soviet cooperation, and even expression the opinion that the participation of the USSR in the Pacific Ocean war is necessary to speed up the complete defeat of the military power of Japan. The Chongqing press, however, is well known for its ability to publish statements having no grounds and a connection with actual government policy. In reality, no doubts have been produced in Chinese policy which might indicate any sincere intentions to improve Chinese-Soviet relations. The retirement of General Sheng Shicai in August 1944 under the pretext that he headed anti-Soviet [groups] was staged as a friendly act toward the Soviet Union. In reality, however, it seems clear that Chongqing simply used the Xinjiang incident as justification for itself as deliverance from the power he had as a semi-autonomous provincial ruler. It might also be noted that Sheng Shicai was awarded for his "gross mistake", appointed to the post of Minister of Agriculture [and Forestry], and it will not prevent him from remaining the owner of a great quantity of pasture land in Xinjiang and northwest [one unreadable place name].

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